Saturday, September 15, 2018

Revising when Life Takes A Turn (for the worse)

A few weeks ago, I received an R&R from an agent I am SUPER excited about. I loved her suggestions and went straight to work.

Unfortunately, two days after that, my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The doctors gave her a week and she's barely with us 3 weeks later. I've been keeping vigil ever since we got the diagnosis. Obviously, my writing has taken a backseat. But I am still trying to keep up on it and implement the revisions. My heart isn't quite in it, but I am making progress.

My concern is that I know this will take longer than expected. I'm already behind about 3 weeks of what I could have had done by now, and I don't know when I'll be back up to full speed. But I also don't want to e-mail the agent and have them think I'm trying to earn pity points by mentioning my situation and asking if they'd still be interested 2, 3, even 6 months from now.

How do I address this situation with tact? Do I just not mention anything until I send the revised manuscript? Do I say something now but be vague about what's holding me back?

First, I'm very sorry to hear this awful news about your mother. Talk about a kick in the pants from the Universe.

Second, when life kicks you in the pants, you email the agent and tell her. Just like you told me here.

No adult will think you're trying to earn pity points. Killing grandmas is for undergrads trying to avoid tests. Most none of us wouldn't  prevaricate about our mom like this anyway.

And give yourself permission to just be where you are. This time with your mother is precious. Don't fret that you should be writing; you shouldn't. There's only one important thing right now: your mom.

When the situation is no longer immediate, you can regroup, give yourself some time to breathe, and then start in again. Don't email the agent again until you've had a couple weeks to see how you're doing.

I get emails like this more often than I wish (ie more than zero). I've never been annoyed that the revisions were derailed or would be longer in coming. I've never rejected anyone for that either. The only thing I've done is reply with reassurance that I'll be here when you're ready, and add the author to my prayer list.

You'll be ok.
You'll be different, and life won't ever be the same, but you will be ok.

29 comments:

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hang in OP.
My best to your family during this difficult journey.
Backseat your writing. Mom is upfront.

Sherry Howard said...

You will never regret putting things aside for your precious mother! Love her up while you can. And, congratulations on this part of your writing journey!

Claire Bobrow said...

My thoughts are with you and your family, OP. Focus on mom, care for yourself, and the writing (and agent) will be there when you're ready.

Micki Browning said...

May you and your family find strength and comfort during this difficult time. My best to you and yours.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

What a tough situation. The writing can wait. The agent will too. Be easy with yourself during this difficult period, OP. Hang in there.

Julie Weathers said...

Dear OP, My thoughts and prayers are with you. Yes, I did pray for you and Mom. It's a terrible thing to go through. I sat with my dad for three weeks when he was dying. I wrote when he slept. He insisted I live in the nursing home with him instead of a motel, and that was fine living in a VA nursing home for three weeks. It was an experience. However, sometimes my presence seemed to make him uneasy when he was trying to go to sleep, as if he was fighting to stay "there" for me.

You have to be the judge on these things. Slipping away while she's sleeping and writing may take your mind off things. But right now, your focus should be on Mom and you. Only write if you need to distract your mind. Honestly, a good book might be better, but you know best.

This is an important time in your life and you don't want to have regrets. If the agent doesn't understand do you really want them anyway?


Realize you are not alone in this. People are lifting you up in the dark times and you are cared for.

CynthiaMc said...

We've been super busy at work and started rehearsals for our new show this week so I'm playing blog post catch up.

OP - So sorry about your mother.

When our son was born 3 months prematurely I stopped writing and took care of him. My mom was dying at the same time 6 hours away so the days someone else could be with our son, I went to be with her.

A few years ago my mother-in-law spent several months in intensive care prior to her passing. Didn't get much writing done then either.

The thing is, even when you're not writing, you're living, learning, feeling, growing and you will be an even better writer later, when you're ready.

Janet - one of my favorite nephews shares a birthday with your mother. I love your stories about her.

Julie - congratulations on finishing Rain Crow. Can hardly wait to read it.

Carolinians and all in Florence's path - one year ago today we finally had our power restored after our last hurricane. Been keeping you all in our prayers.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Julie Congratulations on finishing Rain Crow. Great job. Can’t wait to read.

Brenda said...

Hang in there OP. I went through the same thing a few years back. I still pick up the phone to call her every once in awhile. Then I remember.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

OP... I hope you find comfort in the love of family and friends. Take care of yourself.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

I lost my mother this last winter. Spend time with yours. You'll be grateful you did. My mother slipped away in her sleep a day before I was coming to see her. Luckily I had made a late fall visit while she was still ok.
When I was leaving she came out the kitchen door, stood on the porch, threw her arms out and yelled, "I love you!"
Living things come first, always.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

OP, so sorry about your mom.

Janet, this continues to be a wonderful blog.

Colin Smith said...

Sorry to hear this, Opie. Everything that Janet (and others) said. Be there for your Mom. The writing can and will wait. Any agent who doesn't understand that is an agent you probably don't need in your life.

All the very best to you! And congrats on the R&R. :)

Beth Carpenter said...

OP, I've prayed for you and your mother as well. You won't regret a moment of the time you took out to be with her. When it's all over and you're ready, the writing will be there.

Dena Pawling said...


More than 30 years ago, as my father's father lay dying, my father was out of town and it took him more than 10 hours to get to the hospital. Once he arrived, he took his father's hand and said “I'm here, Dad.” My grandfather opened his eyes, smiled, and passed.

More than 20 years ago, when my mother's mother [in Connecticut] was 78 years old, she had to move into assisted living. She had been a widow for many years and was the definition of an independent woman. She HATED assisted living and promised my mother she'd be dead before she was 80. My mother [in California] called her EVERY DAY at 4pm to chat. My grandmother finally died – 12 years later at age 90.

Fast forward to last December. My father was in the hospital in the middle of his battle with a second cancer. This one wasn't going as well as the first one, and he had been in and out of the hospital several times since July. On that December Wednesday afternoon, my mother called me at work and told me the cancer was spreading fast and my father had been placed on hospice. I was supposed to attend a client Christmas party that evening, but I sent my regrets and left work early to see my father. We talked and laughed until late in the evening.

The very next day, Thursday, my father was unable to communicate. Not attending that Christmas party was the very best decision I've ever made.

Hospice staff brought my father home.

I called my #1 son, now medically retired from the Navy and living in Seattle, and conveyed the news. He got in his car and drove for two days to come see his grandpa, even though it was likely he'd be too late. We told my father that my son was coming. His breathing hitched, which was the only movement he was able to make at the time.

My son arrived early Saturday evening. My father passed five hours later.

>>The doctors gave her a week and she's barely with us 3 weeks later. I've been keeping vigil ever since we got the diagnosis. Obviously, my writing has taken a backseat. But I am still trying to keep up on it and implement the revisions. My heart isn't quite in it, but I am making progress.

I'm very sorry to learn about your mother, but I can guarantee that she is thumbing her nose at the doctors for giving her only one week, because you are there for her. Keep a notepad with you, to make notes of ideas that come to you during this time. But don't work on the manuscript while your heart isn't in it. Right now, your heart shouldn't be in it. Be there for your mom, and yourself.

The manuscript and the agent will still be there after this time is over [and if the agent won't wait, you certainly don't want her managing your career]. People never express regrets that they didn't spend enough time at the office. Live life without regrets.

Give your mom, and yourself, a hug from me. I've been there, and it's not easy.

Joseph S. said...

Original Poster,

Janet Reid’s advice is right on target. I hope it crystalized things for you. I know you feel you have a responsibility to your agent (and yourself) to finish when you promised or your agent suggested. Your agent will understand. I know how conflicted you must feel. (I once almost had to force a student to travel to his hometown to be with his dying mother because his mother had told him not to forsake his studies for her. I convinced him that this was his last opportunity to spend time with his mother, and it was important to be with her; and that I and the other faculty would help him catch up on anything he missed. So obvious to me and others but such a confusing time for him.)

Communication is the key to dealing with your agent. Let your agent know the situation, and let him or her know when your life returns to normality enough you can concentrate on the revisions. Trust me, she has other matters to keep her busy until you can concentrate and finish your best work.

P.S. – My mother died this past July when I was less than a month from the target deadline for submitting the latest edition of my Property book. The editor was totally nice and understanding about it, and was pleased when I wrote her a few days ago that I expect to finish next week (a month after our target deadline).

John Davis Frain said...

Stay strong, Opie. People will help you.

Janet's advice here is wonderful, and I'm going to share part of it if you don't mind. This part:

"You'll be different, and life won't ever be the same, but you will be ok."

Jen said...

So, so sorry about your mom OP. Any agent worth his or her salt will be understanding. And any agent who isn't wouldn't be someone you'd want to work with anyway. Hang in there!

nightsmusic said...

OP I'm so sorry to learn what's going on with you. Focus on mom! My mother was there one day and gone the next and it was the hardest thing to not have that precious time with her.

Praying for you and yours.

Casey Karp said...

What everyone else is saying. Mom comes first.

If you have time and energy to write too, that's great, but as you said your heart isn't in it, don't push yourself to write. Save the energy for Mom and for yourself.

Similarly, don't force yourself to get back to the revisions as soon as your mother passes on. Give yourself time and permission to deal with that jagged Mom-shaped space in your life.

You'll know when you're ready to write again--but even so, don't feel obligated to immediately jump back into your revisions. You may find it easier to work on something else for a period of time. (When my father died, it was a couple of weeks before I could face writing again, and even then, it was only short pieces for several more weeks before I was able to focus well enough to think about anything novel length.)

Big wishes for good things to balance the bad.

Craig F said...

Give yourself time for after too. You will feel numb for a while and then things will be unsettled, to say the least. Wait until they settle back down. I can't tell you when , grief is a very personal thing. If it rebounds, give it more time.

Send off that email, then take care of your mom. If the agent isn't helpful, they probably aren't the one you need for your career.

AJ Blythe said...

Congratulations on the R&R, OP. I hope you are allowing yourself a few moments of joy when you think about it, rather than stressing you aren't getting it to it. Your writing, and agent, will be waiting for you when you can give your ms the time and energy it deserves. Right now, that time and energy needs to be with your Mum and family.

Best of luck with the R&R sub when the time comes.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Yup, OP, you will be OK.

Lennon Faris said...

Ah, hugs, OP. Enjoy your mama. Stories are nice because they don't change if we don't want them to.

I hope you find peace in these next few days and weeks.

LynnRodz said...

So sorry to hear about your mum, OP, but as everyone said, Mom comes first. I was hoping to get my ms to beta readers back in May, it didn't happen and I put it aside these past 3 1/2 months to care for my mum who has dementia. My younger sister arrived two days ago to take over and I'll leave in two days. It isn't easy caring for mum 24/7, but it's harder still leaving her and saying goodbye. You won't regret the time spent with your mum, OP. My prayers are with you.

Happy Belated Birthday to your mum, Janet.

Brandi M. Lynch said...

Dear OP,

I’m so sorry you’re going through this. This past March, my grandma was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, and in a PET scan it was discovered she had a spot on her lung and one on her pelvic bone. This 83 year old woman—who would kill me for telling her real age—who mowed her own lawn and who we hosestly thought would live to 100- went in for lung biopsy and never came out of anesthesia. She passed on April 30th after we made the hardest decision our family has ever had to make. I got my edits from my agent in the midst of all this. It was July before I could touch them.

Karen McCoy said...

Sending all good thoughts to OP and her mom. What a terrible thing to happen.

Calla Jacobson said...

This is my first post because I am often reading the blog more than a day or two after posts come up, after the conversation has quieted. (Also, shy.)

But OP, your story had me in tears before I even realized it. It reverberates with my own experience with my mother, who died 9 years ago, within a few weeks of her diagnosis. I would echo what others have said about how precious this time is.

What I want to say in addition is that you may not know exactly how your life will change yet. For me, I was stunned at how the earth shifted under my feet. Totally unprepared. I was not much good at anything for months afterward. You might be! But just be open to however the feelings take you, wherever they take you. It may be harder to write, it may be easier. But it’s a complicated thing, and unpredictable. Try to make decisions in a way that gives yourself plenty of room to maneuver

Unknown said...

Belated OP here:

Mom passed a few days ago. Before she did, I did email the agent, who replied exactly as Janet said. Kind, understanding, told me not to worry about getting it done sooner rather than later.

That said, I have been working on the MS. I've found it's helping me.

One of the last things Mom told me was that she was proud my sister and I are pursuing our creative passions--because she stopped and let work consume her life. I want to get this MS done for me, but also to honor her pride in her children, now.

I spent almost every day of her final month with her. Brought her macadamia nut cookies before she stopped eating altogether. Talked about her grandkids. Made some jokes about Dad--she kept her day sense of humor to the end.

Ultimately, she passed between my leaving the hospice and my dad arriving. That was exactly how she wanted to go--without anyone in the room to be hurt by it.

We had a difficult history, but she helped shape me as a person and we both made sure the other knew they were loved.

I can only pray she's resting in peace, now.

Love you, Mom.